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Ohio House passes legislation against sweepstakes gaming

By DEBRA TOBIN Logan Daily News Reporter This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

LOGAN — In an attempt to crack down on sweepstakes gaming at Internet cafes, the Ohio House of Representatives approved House Bill 605 during Wednesday’s lame-duck session, 63-30. The bill will now go before the Senate, which is expected to meet sometime within the next week. If passed, Internet cafes will cease to exist in Ohio, not particularly because they will be banned, but because there will be a cap set on the daily prizes.

House Bill 605 bans cash payouts and places a $10 cap on the value of other prizes awarded from buying the long distance phone cards that are used to play the electronic games.

Passage of House Bill 605 will affect more than 800 Internet cafes throughout the state, including the Red Door in Logan. And could possibly eliminate 4,000 jobs in a state that is already depressed. While some argue that Internet Cafes are not gambling facilities, the computer games in the cafes are similarly sounding to slot machines, video poker and video Keno games found at the casinos.

The difference is that instead of constantly feeding cash into a slot machine, sweepstakes customers buy Internet time that can cost the player anywhere from 25 cents to $1 a minute on phone cards. The customers are then given magnetic swipe cards loaded with sweepstakes points or passwords to get into the computer in order to enjoy sweepstakes play time on the machines.

Points accumulate on the machines just as with slot machines, and the more points accumulated, the bigger the potential prize.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine thanked the Ohio House of Representatives for its passage of the bill that would establish strict limits on sweepstakes gaming at Internet cafes.

“I thank Speaker [William] Batchelder, representatives [Matt] Huffman and [Louise] Blessing, and the Ohio House of Representatives for taking action on the unregulated gambling taking place at Internet cafes across Ohio. HB 605 is a major step forward to protect Ohio consumers. I look forward to and encourage swift passage of HB 605 in the Ohio Senate,” said DeWine.

Local Internet café owner Dancing Elk, who continues dealing with issues with the Ohio Department of Commerce over building code violations, feels that the Internet café legislation is a violation of the 14th Amendment.

“I don’t see where we are doing anything illegal or immoral. I’m amazed at the misrepresentation to the public,” he remarked. “They’re demonizing us and associating us with money laundering, the sex trade and racketeering. That may be a small portion of the business, but it’s not all of us.”

Dancing Elk further indicated that he pays his taxes and has complied with all laws set forth when he signed a moratorium with DeWine’s office this past year.

“You know, we are no different than the Publisher’s Clearing House or McDonalds. That’s all sweepstakes, just as this is sweepstakes,” he explained. “I can’t determine on the machines who’s going to win. These machines have clients nationally and the payout is 95 percent, which is better odds than that in a casino or racino.”

He has mixed emotions at this point on whether his tribally connected business will survive, but added, “It’s hard to say what’s going to happen, but I would be willing to use my knowledge of the gaming laws against theirs — they’re just trying to eliminate the competition, that’s all — competition of the casinos.”

While he holds out hope, he said, “We’ve been fighting the cause for common man and our freedom — in this town. We give to the community and moved in here thinking we were helping the community.”

“As a Native American, we have been fighting the government for over 300 years,” he chuckled. “We’re used to it.”

In addition, Dancing Elk indicated that the government is making it difficult to operate an Internet café, but appears to be more open to allowing casinos and said he wouldn’t be opposed to opening a casino in the area.

“If they want us to be a casino, I’ll open one. Give me my casino license and my tribe will open a casino. I’ll get investors and my tribe will do this,” he said.

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